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While schools remain open, state governments are recommending that children undertake home-schooling during the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, employees who are also parents may need to stay home to look after their children.

In this unprecedented event, the usual support systems parents might otherwise turn to when schools are shut may not be available. So, what does this mean to you as an employer? What are your options for employees who must stay home to care for their kids? This article explains your options.

Working From Home

Many businesses have instituted working from home systems. However, this is only suitable if: 

  • your business is one where your employees can carry out their duties from home; and
  • your employees can complete their work because their children are old enough to not need constant care throughout the day. 

It is easier for employees who are parents of children who do not need constant care. You can encourage them to work flexible hours to accommodate this change.

Paid Personal Leave

Under the National Employment Standards, all full-time permanent employees are entitled to 10 days of paid personal leave per year (prorated for part-time workers). For employees who need to attend to child care responsibilities, this entitlement to paid personal leave would cover their absence from work.

Unpaid Carer’s Leave

Your employees should exhaust their 10 days of personal leave first. They can then look after family members using unpaid carer’s leave. They are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave for each separate occasion that the need arises. 

Unpaid Leave

You can offer unpaid leave to employees who need to be absent from work to look after their children if they have exhausted their periods of paid leave. In such a case, you would offer a set period (e.g. one month or six weeks), and set the date at which you will have a review conversation with the employee. If schools open in advance of that, you can have the review conversation at an earlier time. 

Open Dialogue

The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented circumstance and there is a lot of uncertainty for all parties. Transparent and regular communication can minimise additional anxiety, as well as involving employees in the decision-making process. Open a dialogue with your employees, noting that you want to help them to manage their family responsibilities while making responsible decisions for the business. 

Termination Risk

If you are considering terminating your employee because they are absent due to school closure, this decision could expose your business to a significant discrimination risk. An employee absent because of their carer’s responsibilities could challenge the lawfulness of your dismissal

Casual Employees

Casual employees do not have paid sick or carer’s leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards. They are generally not entitled to be paid if they do not work.  

Unfortunately, casual employees who need to be absent from work to look after their children will not be entitled to any paid leave, or expectation of work, when schools reopen. 

The federal government’s Job Keeper payments, brought in to assist with the COVID-19 led economic downturn, apply to casual employees with more than 12 months’ regular service. As an employer, it is worth considering accessing these payments.

Key Takeaways

If your employee needs to take time off to look after their children during the outbreak of the coronavirus, it is important that you understand your legal obligations. Here, you can choose to have the employee work from home. However, if this option is not available, your employee may have to take personal leave. If you have any questions about how the coronavirus is affecting your employees, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page. 

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